Thursday, February 5, 2009

Movie: Frost / Nixon

I had pretty low expectations for this; to be honest I expected a political hatchet job. Instead, I got one of the best movies I have seen in a while.

The film is remarkably sympathetic to Nixon and surprisingly tough on Frost, who is portrayed essentially as an enterprising and ambitious intellectual lightweight who gets lucky because he hired good research assistants.

I think as time passes it becomes easier, if not to forgive Nixon for Watergate (and for wage and price controls, which arguably are much worse), then to at least put a bit more weight in evaluating his time in office on his positive accomplishments in foreign policy and to compare him more thoughtfully with the other members of the rogue's gallery of post-WWII presidents.

Partly I think this is simply because Nixon is such a fascinating character - so much deeper and more troubled than, say, Clinton or Bush II. In addition, more has come out since the 1970s about misbehavior by Kennedy and Johnson, and we got to watch Clinton follow Nixon's lead by using the IRS as a weapon against his political enemies at the American Spectator. Plus Vietnam looks a bit less demented (though perhaps even more unnecessary) in hindsight given the liberal victory over communism in the Cold War. Finally, though the movie underplays this, I think Nixon gets points for being a very good ex-president. He did not go around scolding people like Jimmy Carter; instead he wrote a series of thoughtful, well-regarded books.

I can see why the movie got nominated for best picture. Highly recommended.